SBD/February 17, 2012/Sports in Society

Jeremy Lin's Rise With Knicks Has Captivated The Global Sports

Rise of Knicks G Jeremy Lin featured in front-page piece in USA Today

Knicks G Jeremy Lin’s performance has “captivated sports fans throughout the world, including Asia,” according to Jeff Zillgitt in a front-page piece for USA TODAY. Univ. of Richmond Leadership Studies professor Thad Williamson said, “Lin is changing perceptions of Asian Americans, in ways that both reinforce and deeply challenge existing stereotypes.” Williamson added, “This seems like an important development in the way Asian Americans are likely to be perceived and portrayed.” MSG Network Knicks analyst Walt Frazier said, “This league is dominated by African Americans. What are the odds of an Asian guy coming on and having this impact? It’s amazing. It’s inexplicable” (USA TODAY, 2/17). Golfer Yani Tseng, a native of Taiwan, said, “I know he was born in America, but still it’s huge for the Asian sports and for basketball.” She added, “Every day (in Taiwan) he’s on the first page of the newspaper. So every day you turn on the Internet and they’re talking about Jeremy Lin” (USA TODAY, 2/17). YAHOO SPORTS’ Victor Chi wrote Lin is “a breakthrough because the Asian American male has always lagged behind in cultural visibility and acceptance.” Most Asian male athletes “of significance are either from Asia -- Yao Ming, Ichiro, Hideki Matsui, Manny Pacquiao -- or those not primarily identified as being Asian -- Tiger Woods, Hines Ward, Apolo Ohno, Johnny Damon” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 2/16). In Boston, Julian Benbow writes Lin “isn’t the first Asian-American to play in the NBA, but he’s the first to make this kind of impact.” Asian-American political advocate Leverett Wing said, “We can relate to Jeremy Lin more than we can relate to Yao Ming. He was born here, he grew up here, he looks and acts just like one of my cousins’’ (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/17).

BREAKING BARRIERS: Lin said, “I think there’s definitely stereotypes. I mean, obviously, there’s a lot of them. The more we can do to break those down every day, the better we’ll become.” In DC, Rick Maese notes “no Division I universities offered him a basketball scholarship.” No NBA teams “risked one of their draft picks on him.” In fact, two NBA teams cut him “before the Knicks signed Lin last month” (WASHINGTON POST, 2/17). TNT's Steve Kerr said of Lin going undrafted, "I think it has to do with the fact he’s Asian-American, the fact that he was an Ivy League player and it has to do with the fact he’s just kind of unknown.” ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser said, “I can understand how a kid out of Harvard might not be noticed, but you also talk about him being an Asian-American. Are you suggesting that there are players ... that GMs look at and just dismiss them automatically out of some racial bias?” Kerr: “It’s not so much racial bias as it is just a statistical aberration” ("PTI," ESPN, 2/16). A USA TODAY editorial states Lin “has the potential to bring new viewers to a sport that turned off many of its fans with last year’s desultory labor dispute.” The “irony is that the very things that might have held him back -- being Asian American and from an Ivy League school -- are now the assets fueling his amazing popularity” (USA TODAY, 2/17). In N.Y., Peter Vecsey writes, “Today’s NBA, it appears, is the only place in the world a Harvard education works against you” (N.Y. POST, 2/17). A TORNTO STAR editorial is written under the header, “New York Knicks’ Jeremy Lin Is Worth Cheering, In Part Because He’s Asian” (TORONTO STAR, 2/17).

KEEPING AN EYE OUT: NBA China CEO David Shoemaker said that Lin’s "stunning rise this month is spurring further growth in viewership and merchandise sales that soared during the years Yao played" with the Rockets. The AP’s Christopher Bodeen notes the NBA's Beijing office “is working hard to nurture the frenzy surrounding Lin, whose parents were born in Taiwan.” Shoemaker said that that includes “ensuring Knicks games are as accessible as possible, providing online content, and using social media to stir the discussion.” Shoemaker said that the NBA in China “had been keeping an eye on him for a while.” Still, the "Linsanity" phenomenon “has been as breathtaking to [Lin] as to anyone” (AP, 2/17).

PROCEED WITH CAUTION: USA TODAY’s Michael McCarthy writes Asian stereotyping “has begun appearing in coverage” of Lin. MSG Network “showed Lin’s face above a fortune cookie” after Wednesday's Kings-Knicks game. MSG released a statement Thursday that said that it “has nothing to do with the image.” MSG: “What appeared briefly last night was not an MSG graphic, it was one of many fan signs in the arena.” The N.Y. Post also “took criticism for using the headline ‘Amasian’ after Lin drilled the game-clinching three-pointer” for a win against the Raptors Tuesday. Asian-American Institute in Chicago Senior Staff attorney Andrew Kang “sees ‘soft’ racism in media debates about why Lin went unnoticed for so long by the basketball establishment and why he’s setting the NBA on fire now.” Kang: “You hear endless debates about: ‘How can this be happening? How can he be doing so well?’” He added, “What they really mean is: ‘How can an Asian-American be doing so well in the NBA?’” (USA TODAY, 2/17).

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